I’ve been trying to establish a Twitter presence, on the advice of a marketer with whom I shared concerns about a couple of my microscopic business ventures. Every day I try to grind out something pithy… and every day I watch the Twitterverse volley snarky remarks about Ivanka and Oprah back and forth over my head. This ain’t working for me. It’s like expecting a mastodon to do The Worm in the endzone.
A hot topic the other day seemed to be whether one should—or dare—be proud to be an American. The ever-hypersensitive Mika apparently tweeted something about her friends being “viscerally embarrassed” to acknowledge their American citizenship in Paris. I logged a response about my father-in-law’s having told me once that no one was ever allowed to enter Paris on furlough after the Liberation without a buddy—that too many fascist-sympathizers were abroad and looking for targets. I added that the French Jews could never have been rounded up for deportation without local help: Hitler hadn’t the troops to spare for such duty.
My point, of course, was that Parisians hardly have a right to criticize anybody’s national affiliation… but the chatter just continued: “I was in Paris last summer, and I had no trouble being a proud American,” etc., etc.
On the one hand, I personally am probably not all that proud of my nationality. I was born here. So what? I try to find other things in life in which to take pride than accidents of birth. Should I be proud to be Caucasian or male?
I was once proud that my nation lived by a document that allotted rights to men and women on the basis of their being creatures endowed with freedom by God whose society left them alone to fail, to learn, and to grow… but I’m not at all proud that my nation has largely turned its back on that most precious element of its heritage.
I’m not proud, either, that one may not so much as begin a conversation about the sanctity, say, of Abraham Lincoln. One may not call into question certain “facts” about the Civil War, observing that 95 percent of Confederate soldiers didn’t own a slave, that the South harbored more Abolitionist societies than the North until John Brown started stirring up murderous chaos, that Lincoln only emancipated slaves in the South—and there only to enlist them forcibly as cannon fodder for his very unpopular war (protests against which he squelched by suspending habeas corpus). No, can’t go there. Matters of history, especially when they’re tinged with matters of race, are a Twitter-ready toggle up/toggle down in this land of the free. Either you drink the Kool-Aid, or you’re a liar and a racist. I’m not proud of my association with a society that exacts such lynch-mob thinking of its citizens.
On the other hand, as I edge my way through the 2015 serial now on Netflix, The Fighting Season, I feel a certain pride that our military is halfway around the world helping people to resist the outright hooliganism—cynically swathed in religion—which is the Taliban. I have no problem with our vaporizing these butchers, just as I would have no problem with our leaving Mexican pandilleros for the vultures whenever we find them straying across our border. Men who behead women for visiting a hairdresser or enslave young girls in prostitution have already acted as their own judge and jury, as I see it, and only need an executioner. The Mikas of the world are all for cutting them enough slack to brutalize more children, as long as they stay away from the gated neighborhoods of the elite. Most Americans, however, would say, “You had your chance, and you chose the sword. Now die by it.”
I’m not “viscerally embarrassed” that my countrymen do not sit impotently on the sidelines and do nothing but snipe at would-be intercessors. Situations like those in Afghanistan are immensely complex, and a case could certainly be made that our well-intentioned presence will end up making things worse; but the French were raping Vietnam for her natural resources while we were trying to halt the creep of totalitarian Maoist communism, and I’ve no doubt that any interest they might take in Central Asia would be of a similar quality.
Of course, what this is really all about is the incessant disparagement of everything wrought by Western culture—by Christianity, by capitalism, by applied science and technology, by republican governments—ongoing in our grade schools and universities. It long ago leaked into the news and entertainment media, and it is growing ever more observable in a know-nothing generation of youth addicted to “smartphones”. No one who’s read my stuff faithfully for a year would think of charging me with being uncritical of organized Christianity, unbridled capitalism, or unexamined technical innovation… but there comes a point when one finally wants to say to the spoiled brats inhabiting artificial reality, “Just shut up, will you? Mistakes are what happen when you get off your butt and try to do something. People like you never make mistakes.”
I’m not going to wrap myself in the Stars and Stripes… but I get it. In this increasingly dumbed-down, either/or, “with us or against us” society of ours, I completely get it.